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What the Supreme Court’s ruling on NCAA athletes means — and doesn’t mean

The Supreme Court ruled on NCAA v. Alston Monday, although it did not decide on name, image and likeness issues. What does the decision mean moving forward?

West Virginia running back Shawne Alston (20) is tackled from behind during an NCAA football game
In this Nov. 26, 2010, file photo, West Virginia running back Shawne Alston (20) is tackled from behind during an NCAA football game against Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh.
Keith Srakocic, Associated Press

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court ruled after a long wait in the case of the NCAA v. Alston, which sought to answer the question of whether the NCAA’s prohibition on compensation for college athletes violates federal antitrust law.

As the topic of name, image and likeness is a hot-button issue in college sports these days, many were expecting the ruling to potentially bring about major changes in the way collegiate athletes can be compensated.

Although the ruling was a unanimous 9-0 in favor of Shawne Alston, a former running back at West Virginia University, it was quite narrow in its scope. In essence, the ruling’s key point is that the NCAA can’t enforce certain rules limiting the education-related benefits such as computers and internships that colleges offer athletes.

The ruling did not in any way fundamentally change rules on name, image and likeness, although many observers opined Monday that it will likely open the door for further cracking of the amateurism model the NCAA has long been able to uphold.

“Alston probably speeds up movement on an NCAA resolution on Name, Image and Likeness rights if it wasn’t moving at high speed already,” Steven Bank, a sports law professor at UCLA, wrote on Twitter Monday.

In a statement made after the ruling, the NCAA said, “While today’s decision preserves the lower court ruling, it also reaffirms the NCAA’s authority to adopt reasonable rules and repeatedly notes that the NCAA remains free to articulate what are and are not truly educational benefits, consistent with the NCAA’s mission to support student-athletes.”

Within that statement, NCAA president Mark Emmert was quite open in addressing his stance on NIL, even as Monday’s decision did not formally rule on it.

“Even though the decision does not directly address name, image and likeness, the NCAA remains committed to supporting NIL benefits for student-athletes,” Emmert said. “Additionally, we remain committed to working with Congress to chart a path forward, which is a point the Supreme Court expressly stated in its ruling.”

Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger reported comments from a number of members of Congress on the ruling, as that body has been debating an NIL bill (a number of states have their own NIL bills, some of which are set to go into effect as soon as July 1.